Monday, November 14, 2011

An Interview with WayForward - Centipede: Infestation

Once again we'd like to welcome back and thank our friends at WayForward for talking with us about the recently released Atari title Centipede: Infestation. Today, we talk with Game Director Armando Soto and Creative Director Matt Bozon.

First off, thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Centipede: Infestation.

Armando Soto (Game Director): Thanks for having us. I am the Game Director on Centipede: Infestation for WayForward, which has been making games for over 20 years now. Some of you might remember our work on Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS, A Boy and his Blob for Wii, and most recently Bloodrayne: Betrayal for PSN/XBLA.

It seems like WayForward is into everything nowadays. How did the company team up with Atari to work on Centipede: Infestation?

Armando: Atari really wanted to bring something new to the table for Centipede: Infestation. We had a ton of ideas that went back and forth but Atari had its Phasers set to RE-ENVISION – so we did! Players are getting something totally new for the brand while receiving those great nostalgia moments from the original game.

There have been a lot of classic games getting revived recently, how challenging was it to bring a fresh spin to Centipede?

Armando: This was totally different than our time with Contra 4 and A Boy and his Blob, because in those cases the gameplay was kept intact; we were not trying to re-envision a whole new world.

Matt Bozon (Creative Director): Our first conversations were based around Galaga Legions, Pac Man Championship Edition, or Space Invaders Extreme – games that take existing gameplay and hyper-charge it. When Atari expressed interest in the action/adventure genre, we added human characters, a new world and a storyline to give the gameplay a sense of purpose. This felt like the best way to separate this new console Centipede from Classic Centipede.

Armando: This game does not replace Classic Centipede by any means but it does extend the brand in our eyes. I think the challenge was not to copy the original but find those key elements that would trigger that Centipede vibe. Since this was a whole new product everything had to be created from scratch. We hope players will enjoy it as a whole new product.

What were some of your inspirations for the game's design? Did you go back and play hours of the original Centipede?

Armando: You know Centipede is a game I have played almost my whole life so I was very familiar with it. I am talking about playing this in the Arcade (may they rest in peace) too. Nothing like being at a ShowBiz Pizza and putting your quarter in a machine with a track ball that lets you kill bugs dead! We got inspired by Smash TV on Super Nintendo for the 3DS controls, and Sin and Punishment 2 by Treasure, since they've established the bar for shooters on the Wii.

Matt: We also looked at Cannon Spike for Dreamcast. The tower defense elements you see in the game were extensions of the Mushroom obstacles that appear in the original. Pro players use these objects to their advantage, routing the centipede down specific paths and shredding them. It seemed like giving other bugs the ability to drop objects would mesh well with the original design. We wanted to keep some original Centipede DNA in the game.

Any thoughts of getting a trackball for this, so it could be closer to the original arcade experience?

Matt: Early on we met with Nolen Bushnell, who offered a lot of suggestions for paying homage to the original, including the virtues of trackball controls. In the end, we had to do our best with dual analog setup. Creating a trackball accessory wasn't in the cards this time. Can you imagine Dual Trackball Centipede? Maybe next time...

Armando: In the end though we kept it simple for everyone and we believe that it came out really well. Try using the classic controller on the Wii. It is a knee slappin good time.

Unlike many other classics, there have been very few official sequels or spin-offs for Centipede. With few other takes on the title, how did this shape your design of the game?

Armando: That is probably its best asset, lack of spin-offs; since we were given the breathing room to create something totally original for the brand we had a chance to try some new things out! We did have some pillars that gave use direction on how things should sound and move like the famous Centipede walking path but other than those types of things we really were shaped by Atari's vision.

Matt: Nearly a 30 year gap is bound to be jarring. Hopefully Infestation is a helpful step in getting developers to look at the brand again. Meantime, it's a great reason to grab a friend and start blasting bugs!

How different are the Wii and 3DS versions? What features are the most impressive on the 3DS version?

Armando: The difference is the controls. They make these games feel very much unique in their own way. The 3DS version does support the stereoscopic gameplay and high quality 2D stereoscopic animated cut scenes. We totally supported Streetpass which will allow you to gain some really neat customization for your characters that won't be on the Wii version. Touch screen weapon selecting also make the 3DS a bunch of fun.

What challenges did developing for the 3DS present? What lessons from this will be the most helpful for developing for portables in the future?

Armando: Mostly the challenges are technical in nature. I am not going to say that developing for it is easy breezy beautiful but it's the little things you have to remember. Things like making sure you have both left and right eye versions of the videos. This is a 3D machine and although it has only 2 screens it's almost like you have to account for 3 screens (left eye, right eye and the touch screen below)!

WayForward has been a major developer of portable titles over the years, what are your thoughts on the divide between portable console gaming and mobile games?

Matt: Some titles make the jump fairly well, but these seem like very different markets right now. Common sense dictates that 30 $1 games are better than 1 $30 game. But a portable gamer is likely to flat out disagree. Portable gamers are going to carry a system or three with them at all times whether they have phone functionality or not. Mobile gamers seem to enjoy the many flavors offered to them on their smartphone, and are welcoming of new experimental games. But, in the mobile world any game over $5 today would be called "expensive" and even if purchased, might see only a few minutes of play time. Both are great markets, but as developers we need to serve them differently.

How do you think the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita hold up as far as future development?

Matt: I think they'll find their audience, but it may not be as large as previously imagined. Lots of games attempt to be all things to all people, as seen on smartphones and tablets. I'm happy to see dedicated game devices that feed my obsession, but I'm also not likely to part with my phone. I'm confident that gamers are going to flock to these systems and love them for years to come, regardless of outside trends.

Pocket Console is very appreciative of Armando and Matt's time in answering these questions about Centipede: Infestation and for Atari and its PR firm for helping to arrange this meeting. WayForward's latest offering is published by Atari, and is available now for the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii.

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